MONTHLY SCREENWRITING TIPS - ISSUE #28
Last night at my house we watched Zero Dark Thirty. It’s not too bad. “Not too bad” from me is really rather a compliment, as I’m notorious for hating all movies. I do not, in fact, hate all movies; I hate merely most movies. Read on for what you’ll need in your movie in order to hear me utter “not too bad.”
THREE TREATMENTS OF TALIBAN TERROR
Last night at my house we watched Zero Dark Thirty. It’s not too bad. “Not too bad” from me is really rather a compliment, as I’m notorious for hating all movies.
Can’t you see the poster in the lobby? UCLA film Professor Richard Walter says: “Not too bad!”
I do not, in fact, hate all movies; I hate merely most movies.
Isn’t that the way of art?
Face it: most paintings, literature, sculpture, and music suck. We go to a museum and see nothing but worthy paintings and sculpture. We assume that most—maybe all—painting and sculpture is great. In fact, however, every work of art properly installed at any museum is one of a zillion among other works that never made it to the galleries, the vast majority of which richly merit their exclusion. They are useless, worthless, and devoid of any reason for consideration or contemplation other than by the amateurs who created them.
Movies, however, are contemporary. TV is even more so. They are in our face now. There has been no time for the culling and deselecting that is central to the process of discriminating between what is worthy and what is not. People sometimes say, “Why don’t they make great movies like they used to in, say, the ‘30s or ‘40s?” Did they make great films in the ‘30s and ‘40s? Absolutely. But they also made oodles of lousy films, too. The latter, thank goodness, drifted away.
I don’t doubt that in 2050 or thereabouts people will be moaning, “Why don’t they make great pictures like they did in the early years of the millennium?”
Zero Dark Thirty has created controversy over its claim that it was the American torture of Taliban prisoners that produced the information enabling the assassination of bin Laden.
Please understand that I believe we had every right--indeed every obligation—to kill bin Laden. You don’t have to be a born/raised New Yorker (like me) to rage against him; you don’t have to lose a cousin in the World Trade Towers (as I did--Port Authority security specialist Douglas Karpiloff) in order to loathe the warped, self-righteous excuse for a human being that was Osama.
Zero Dark Thirty is so muddy and bloody, so cluttered with data and detail that after a while it just becomes wearying. It’s hard for this old man’s head to follow the plot, and ‘plot’ is certainly the word that applies here. I wouldn’t even have been aware of the torture controversy if I hadn’t read about it in the press. (Spoiler alert: at the end of the movie bin Laden dies).
There’s nothing wrong with playing fast and loose with facts in a movie. It’s just that: a movie.
Even if I believe that all film makers have every right to change the facts in order to tell a stronger story, I believe the Zero Dark Thirty deceptions actually hurt the film. This is one instance where truth would play better than fantasy. A truthful depiction of the manner in which humane treatment of prisoners—for example the granting of special privileges—far more successfully teased out the info regarding bin Laden’s location and would have made an even stronger story.
The writers mess with the facts also in Argo, another treatment of Taliban-style terror and, in my view, the superior movie. There, however, it simply heightens the dramatic tension and stress. In real life there was no scene where Iranian police cars chased the plane down the runway, trying to head it off at the very last moment. Likewise, there was no sudden cancellation of the rescue scheme, followed by a cancellation of the cancellation.
Neither of these two political/religious terror tales can compete, however, with Showtime’s Homeland. Here, as with The Sopranos and such BBC masterworks as Upstairs/Downstairs or I, Claudius, is what happens when great writing smashes into great acting.
Such breakthroughs make it worthwhile to sit through fifteen lame, stupid movies if every once in a while there is something so timeless, so eternal, as Homeland.
Film Courage Interview with Richard Walter: When Do You Quit Your Dreams?
In a recent video interview with Film Courage, a website and radio show focused on empowering independent filmmakers, Richard Walter shared his advice on how if your art falls into place, it doesn’t necessarily mean your life will follow suit.
Watch the video on the FilmCourage YouTube channel.
Catch Richard If You Can!
Up and coming workshops and seminars: